By: Ruby in The Dust
On at The Union Theatre (London) until 30th April 2016
The problem with Gatsby is that it’s so iconic and because of that all its ephemera is a cliche. Even Baz Lurhman’s 2013 film adaptation left a over-ripe taste in the mouth. With this in mind Ruby in the Dust’s production is a noble effort at adapting an epic classic into a stage musical. The production is semi immersive as some of the seats are in the playing area and the characters weave in from all corners. The music is played live by talented players, most of whom are also actors in the production and it evokes very clearly the swinging jazz era of Gatsby’s New York. The book is a very clear adaptation sometimes bringing lines of dialogue straight from the original text. It is probably the adherence to the structure of the novel which brings down this piece theatrically. It has all the lucidity of a memoire without any real tension. The musical numbers are used for exposition as opposed to revealing the inner feelings of the characters. You could be forgiven for thinking that the characters don’t have any feelings apart from the ones they claim to have.
I think perhaps what’s missing from this play is subtext, dramatic tension and satisfying characters. That said it was lovely to see a large company singing together and the cast carried themselves with great charm and wit. Special kudos go to Joanna brown’s fizzy portrayal of Daisy, Lewis Rae bringing verve and wit to a multitude of characters and Zed Josef for being the most convincing in his role, though that may be down to casting. There’s also a turn from Fern McCann as Myrtle and she puts in a reasonable performance but her singing is just an aping of Amy Winehouse and though she does her eyeliner in a similar flourish it does not result in a similar soulful utterance.